Two By Two?

As our churches become more and more engaged in mission work, this activity becomes increasingly a topic of conversation: among ministers, on Sunday evening visits between saints, even among the young people. Frequently questions arise concerning the methods that we presently employ and have employed, in Jamaica and in other places. The remark is even heard from time to time that one reason our mission efforts have been only meagerly successful is that we do not follow the Scriptural principle of sending out two missionaries to work the same field together. Therefore, the question to be answered is whether or not the Scriptures do indeed teach that the Church of Jesus Christ perform her missionary function through the labors of two or more missionaries. And in close connection with that, another question: Do the Scriptures teach this as a principle? That is, does working “two by two” on the mission field belong to fundamental doctrine and law as, for example, do the sacraments and the offices in the church? Our recently-returned missionary from Jamaica, Rev. G. C. Lubbers answers the question with an unequivocal “Yes.” When his permission was obtained to record his answer here, it was pointed out that this has long been his position. In the Acts of Synod, 1972, p. 78, we find in the Supplemental Report of the Mission Committee: “The Mission Committee received a letter from Rev. Lubbers, dated April 7, 1972, in which he stated, in part, “I do believe that Synod should be notified and instructed to face seriously the question of calling another missionary to the island; there should be no less than two ministers here. Grounds: 1. A missionary needs the spiritual and moral support of a fellow-missionary. Paul even had such a man. Christ sent out two by two.” (Other grounds follow here, not pertinent to our subject.) The Mission Committee forwarded this request to Synod, the Committee of Pre-advice advised Synod to call another missionary for Jamaica on the first three grounds supplied by Rev. Lubbers, and the Synod decided to refer this matter to the Mission Committee for further advice and grounds. (Cf. 1972 Acts of Synod, Arts. 111, 122) No recommendation on this matter was made to the 1973 Synod, although we find in the Acts of this Synod that ministers were sent to Jamaica to help our missionary for approximately six months during the early part of 1973.


Before we examine Biblical passages that speak to this question, we want to call attention to some positions taken by our Synods in the past when this matter was brought before them. In fact, a little history of past years will prove interesting here. 

1. In the Acts of Synod, 1946, p. 69, there is a Supplement IV that proposes “that the Mission Committee suggests to Synod to arrange for the calling of two home missionaries instead of one so that these brethren may labor together in this work.” Five grounds are offered, the first of which is: “This is a sound Scriptural principle with respect to Mission labor. Cf. Luke 10:1Acts 10:23Acts 13:2, etc.” (The interested reader will want to read the rest of the grounds.) In Articles 82 and 83 Synod decided to assure the Home Missionary of assistance in his labors by permitting the Mission Committee, in conjunction with the calling church, to ask the help of a fellow minister. This decision was thought to be of sufficient importance that it is incorporated into the Constitution of the Mission Committee (Cf. p. 44 of the Church Order Book.) 

2. On pp. 60-61 of the Acts of the 1947 Synod, a committee of pre-advice again urged Synod to mandate the Mission Committee to call two missionaries to labor together in the work of home missions. This committee reminded Synod of the five grounds presented to the 1946 Synod (see above) and stated that to ask for the aid of another minister would never prove feasible. In Article 83 Synod decided “that the calling church call two missionaries to labor together in the work of home missions.” 

3. In September of 1947 Rev. W. Hofman and Rev. E. Knott accepted calls to be our home missionaries. After both missionaries labored for a time in Byron Center, Michigan, Rev. Hofman was sent to investigate prospects in Lynden, Washington, while Rev. Knott continued in Byron Center. (Cf. Acts of Synod 1948, pp. 24-26.) That these two men were separated by thousands of miles is further evident from the Acts of Synod 1949, p.14: “. . . that the Rev. Knott take up his residence in Lynden, Wash., to labor there and that Rev. W. Hofman reside in Ontario, Canada to begin work there . . .” This separation of missionaries was vehemently protested by the late Rev. Ophoff against First Grand Rapids, the calling church. (Cf. Acts of Synod 1949, pp. 24-47) First Consistory did not sustain him, but upon appealing to Classis East he was sustained by that body. Next, First Consistory appealed to Synod, and Synod expressed agreement with the decision of Classis East in sustaining the protest of Rev. Ophoff. Thus, at the end of the 1949 Synod, the Protestant Reformed Churches held to the position that missionary labor ought to be conducted by two ministers working together, and that this was Scripturally and principally correct. 

4. There is one more chapter to this history of missionary thought. The Mission Committee asked the 1952 Synod to go on record “that the mission committee be permitted to send out two missionaries, at such time as the Lord again gives us two missionaries in the field, either to work together or alone, according to the discretion of the mission committee in conjunction with the calling church.” (Cf. Acts of Synod 1952, p. 43) Under grounds, the Mission Committee calls attention to some of the decisions listed above, as well as stating that there were many Scriptural instances when men were sent out alone. We will come back to the passages that are cited a little bit later. The committee of pre-advice urged Synod to adopt the above recommendation, which Synod did not decide to do. Rather an amendment was made to refer the Mission Committee to former decisions of Synod, to continue to operate under them, and to appoint a committee to study the Mission Committee Report and make recommendations to the 1953 Synod. 

This study committee advised the 1953 Synod to adopt the request of the Mission Committee upon the grounds advanced, (Cf. Acts of Synod 1953, pps. 42, 43) and Synod did so. 

Whatever conclusion is reached as to whether Scripture demands that we labor “two by two,” it will have the support of at least one Synod of our churches. Of course, the decision of the last named Synod has the binding power.


We want to examine briefly the grounds offered by the study committee to discover whether they are of sufficient force to maintain our present policy and to quiet the fears of those in our midst who claim we are not altogether correct in our approach. It ought to be remembered that no one claims a man may not be sent out alone ever; that is, we are all agreed that there may be times when there simply aren’t two men to go out. The point is, if there is one missionary, should the church stop calling for a second? What is the optimum, the Scriptural way? If the Lord gives us a home missionary soon, ought we immediately call another or would it be possible to let it remain there? The first grounds given by the study committee are those advanced by the Mission Committee in 1952. In the first place this ground states, “The Scriptural proof, cited in favor of having two missionaries labor side by side, has no intention of laying down this method as a rule for the church.” Reference is made to Luke lO:l, Acts 10:23, and Acts 13:2. The very fact that no explanation of these verses or their context is given means that the question is begged. What must be proved is simply stated. Take, for example, Luke 10:1, “After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before His face into every city and place, whither He Himself would come.” Is this not normative for mission work? What about verses 2 and 11: “Therefore said he unto them, The harvest is truly great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth laborers into His harvest . . . Even the very dust of your city which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you; not withstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” These thoughts are always thought to be valid for present labors. 

Acts 10:23, “And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him” (to Cornelius), does not constitute proof one way or the other since these brethren are not designated as office-bearers. Acts 13:2, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” This is, in all minds, the crucial text. In the first place we ought to remember this is found in the book of the Acts. In this significant book we find recorded the history of Pentecost; the rest of the contents of the book gives us not the acts of the apostles but those things which Jesus continued to do through His Spirit. Without great fanfare we find in chapter six the institution of the office of deacons. It is not literally stated that this is normative for the church for all time, yet we believe this to be so, mainly because the Spirit has been poured out in the church. That same Spirit speaks, mind you, in Acts 13:2, “Separate Me Barnabas and Paul for the work . . . ” Acts 14:23 also gives us a church principle for all time: elders must be ordained in every church. Yet this is not stated in terms more binding than Acts 13:2. Our conclusion, tentative at this point, is that it is not sufficient to say simply that these texts do not constitute binding proof for the “two by two” principle. In the second place, the study committee reminds Synod that there are many instances in Scripture where men were sent out alone. References made to the O.T. prophets, of course, are non-applicable since no one claims the church of the Old Dispensation did mission work in the sense of the New. The church was restricted to national Israel. The other references of Philip being sent to Samaria, to the Ethiopian, to other cities (Acts 8) and of Peter and Barnabas laboring alone for a while have some weight, although it ought to be remembered that Philip seems to have been sent to confront a single man, and Barnabas was on the way to join Paul. 

The next ground offered by the study committee is that our churches have received a rich blessing during the time one man labored alone. The examples of Rev. H. Hoeksema and Rev. Kok are cited. Could there have been success if a principle of Scripture was violated? No one denies that in times of stress and trouble, when a supply of men is very limited, the Lord can and will use an individual man. But is this optimum, and ought this to be always followed? The next ground is also a simple practical matter: “If it is a Scriptural principle that there must always be two men working side by side in mission activity, then our present missionary must be barred from doing any more such work until we can obtain a missionary to labor with him.” Again, if we call several and only get one, he ought to get to work in the field, but then could we not continue to call others? And finally, the fourth ground again begs the question badly: “The decision of 1949 does not, in practice, give the Mission Committee the permission it now requests.” That is no ground! 

As far as the grounds of 1953 are concerned, at best they are indecisive, present little Scripture and no explanation, and contain practical arguments that are not overwhelming. The result is that some members of our churches hold to the decision of 1949, some to 1953, and the latter decision is binding as far as our mission labors are concerned. 

The next time, the Lord willing, we hope to examine closely various Scriptural passages as well as to face some of the practical problems that a lone messenger faces.